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America’s 13 Prettiest National Parks on the East Coast

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When most people think about national parks in the United States, they tend to think about the amazing national parks that are scattered on the west coast. While these parks are incredible, they aren’t your only option. There’s a lot to be explored within the national parks on the East Coast too!

There are 63 national parks and 423 national park sites scattered throughout the United States. All of these sights offer a little something different – whether that be towering mountains, significant landmarks, or sprawling shorelines.

Some of the best national parks in the U.S. are situated along the East Coast. With gems like Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Canaveral National Seashore, there are so many locations that are worth your time!

If you’re looking for the best national parks on the East Coast, this guide has you covered! 

  

Should You Purchase a National Park Pass?


If you plan on visiting more than one national park per year, you should consider buying a national park pass. The pass is valid for twelve months and it allows you entrance to 2000 federal recreation sites including all national parks for a one-time annual fee. 

If you want to find out if the pass is worth it or not, look up the entrance fees for the parks you’re interested in visiting. Then, do the math and see if it’s cheaper to get the annual pass. Keep in mind that some parks charge per person and others charge per vehicle. 

For more information regarding the national park pass, visit this website

National Parks on the East Coast Fees


Shockingly, there are quite a few national parks on the East Coast that don’t have entrance fees. These parks are absolutely free to visit besides you doing extra activities such as kayaking. Woo! 

These are:

  • Biscayne National Park in Florida
  • Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky
  • Congaree National Park in South Carolina
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas
  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail (cuts through 14 states)
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina

That’s quite a few national parks on the East Coast that you can get into for free!

National Parks on the East Coast Map


13 Best National Parks on the East Coast


You’re in for a real treat as these national parks on the East Coast provide epic coastlines, diverse landscapes, national monuments, and more. If these parks aren’t already on your USA bucket list, they soon will be! 

Here are 13 of the absolute best national parks on the East Coast in no particular order. Because let’s be real — you can’t compare the turquoise waters of Dry Tortugas National Park to the majestic mountains in Shenandoah National Park.

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

  • Location: Maine (~3-hour drive from Portland and a 5-minute drive to Bar Harbor)
  • How Long to Stay: 3-4 days (longer if you want to explore surrounding villages or the Schoodic Peninsula)
  • Where to Stay: Bar Harbor
  • Park Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle (valid for 7 days)
  • Highlights: Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Schoodic Point, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Sand Beach, and Park Loop Road
  • Official Website

Acadia National Park is one of many national parks on the East Coast.

Acadia National Park is one of the most stunning national parks on the East Coast – and it’s packed with things to do! You can watch the striking sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, wander along the relatively easy Beehive Hike, rock climb at Otter Cliff, and drive on Park Loop Road. 

And although the sites of Acadia National Park could keep you occupied for days, there’s also the noteworthy neighboring town of Bar Harbor. While there, you can birdwatch at Frenchman Bay, stop and smell the flowers at the College of the Atlantic Gardens, and maybe even take a whale-watching tour! 

2. Shenandoah National Park

  • Location: Virginia (~1.5-hour drive from Washington D.C.)
  • How Long to Stay: 2-3 days 
  • Where to Stay: Hotels and cabins near Shenandoah National Park
  • Park Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle (unlimited entry for 7 consecutive days)
  • Highlights: Skyline Drive, Luray Caverns, Dark Hollow Falls, Mary’s Rock, Whiteoak Canyon Trail, Hawksbill Mountain, and Old Rag Mountain
  • Official Website

One of many national parks on the East Coast is Shenandoah National Park.

Situated just an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular national parks on the East Coast.

One of the main reasons for Shenandoah National Park’s popularity is the fact that it is packed with things to do. You can hike a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, go spelunking in the Luray Caverns, try backcountry caverns, and keep an eye out for wildlife along the 105-mile Skyline Drive.

As an added bonus, Shenandoah National Park is home to part of the lovely Blue Ridge Parkway. This lengthy scenic road actually winds its way through both Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so you can visit two national parks on just one drive!

3. Everglades National Park, Florida

  • Location: Southern Florida (~45-minute drive from Miami and ~1-hour drive from Naples)
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day
  • Where to Stay: Miami or Naples
  • Park Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle (valid for 7 consecutive days)
  • Highlights: Shark Valley, Anhinga Trail, Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, airboat rides, and Mahogany Hammock
  • Official Website

One of the best national parks on the East Coast is Everglades National Park.

While most of the national parks on the East Coast boast stunning mountains or beautiful beaches, Everglades National Park in Florida offers something that’s a little different.

This unique marshy landscape is filled with loads of wildlife, including alligators, manatees, and Florida panthers. If you’d like to have the best chance of seeing these animals, you should definitely take a wildlife tour by boat.

And if you want to extend your time in Everglades National Park, there are quite a few other activities for you to enjoy. You can kayak, bike, geocache, and hike. You can even try the water-filled, off-trail version of hiking, officially known as slough slogging.

RELATED: The Ultimate Florida Road Trip: 14 Epic Days!

4. Canaveral National Seashore, Florida

  • Location: Titusville, Florida 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day
  • Where to Stay: Titusville
  • Park Entrance Fees: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days)
  • Highlights: Kennedy Space Center, Playalinda Beach, Mosquito Lagoon, and Eldora State House
  • Official Website

If you're looking to visit some national parks on the East Coast, visit Cape Canaveral National Seashore.

The 24 miles of shoreline that make up Canaveral National Seashore create one of the best beaches in the United States. This relatively untouched piece of land is absolutely breathtaking.

While at Canaveral National Seashore, you can do all of the usual beach activities. Suntanning, swimming and shelling are just the start. And then there are all the more unique activities, like boating, hiking, and wildlife watching. There are actually loads of animals that have made Canaveral National Seashore their home, thanks to the land’s untouched nature. You can spot turtles lounging on the seashore, alligators walking around, or bald eagles flying through the sky.

5. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

  • Location: Wellfleet, Massachusetts (~2-hour drive from Boston) 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day
  • Where to Stay: Provincetown or Wellfleet
  • Park Entrance Fees: $25 per vehicle (valid for 1 day)
  • Highlights: Marconi Beach, Race Point Lighthouse, Nauset Lighthouse, Highland Lighthouse, Nauset Beach, Race Point Beach, and Herring Cove Beach
  • Official Website

Cape Cod National Seashore is one of many unique national parks on the East Coast.

Florida isn’t the only spot on the East Coast with a national seashore. Rather, there are quite a few dotting the coastline, including Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.

Cape Cod is already known as a fantastic vacation destination. You can take a stroll along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, say hello to the animals at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, and check out the historic Pilgrim Monument.

And when you can add the 40 gorgeous miles of Cape Cod National Seashore to the mix, you’ll never want to leave this fantastic area! While at this national park, you can suntan, swim, hike, bike, fish, and even hunt. There are even a couple of historical sites, including Marconi Station, where the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission took place, and the artsy Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District.

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

  • Location: Along the North Carolina and Tennessee Border 
  • How Long to Stay: 4-5 days
  • Where to Stay: Gatlinburg, Cherokee, and Pigeon Forge
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Newfound Gap, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Clingmans Dome, Cades Cove, Abrams Falls Trail, Grotto Falls Trail, Laurel Falls, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Foothills Parkway, and Chimney Tops
  • Official Website

Smoky Mountains National Park is one of several national parks on the East Coast.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds the esteemed title of being the most visited national park in the entire country! And with its beautiful lakes, stunning greenery, and towering mountains, there’s no question of why.

One of the most popular things to do at Great Smoky Mountains National Park is to take a drive on Blue Ridge Parkway. Technically, this 460-mile road winds through both Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Shenandoah National Park, so you can visit two national parks in just one trip! Along the way, you’ll see lovely scenic overlooks, picture-perfect farmhouses, and, if you time it right, fiery fall leaves.

And while Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful all year-round, there are quite a few seasonal activities to do in the park as well. You can kayak around Fontana Lake in the summer, stop and smell the wildflowers in the spring, and admire the snowcapped mountain tops in the winter.

RELATED: Best Getaways on the East Coast: 12 Spectacular Locations!

7. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

  • Location: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia  
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Official Website

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is considered one of the coolest national parks on the East Coast.

The historic Appalachian National Scenic Trail actually winds through fourteen states! In other words, if you hike the entirety of this 2,200-mile trail, you’ll explore most of the eastern United States. In other words, it’s one of the coolest national parks on the East Coast.

The concept of the Appalachian Trail came about in 1921, but it wasn’t actually completed until 1937. Today, this lengthy trail takes you through thriving forests, stunning viewpoints, and even a few small towns.

But you certainly don’t have to hike all 2,200 miles to enjoy the Appalachian Trail! As a matter of fact, in 2017, only 848 people managed to hike the entire trail! Instead, you can simply hike a section of this breathtaking path.

8. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

  • Location: Nags Head, North Carolina 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day
  • Where to Stay: Nags Head
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Pea Island, Ocracoke Beach, Jennette’s Pier, Bodie Island, and Oregon Inlet
  • Official Website

Add Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of many amazing national parks on the East Coast.

While there are quite a few national seashores in the country, Cape Hatteras National Seashore holds the distinguished title of being the first U.S. national seashore.

Established in 1953, Cape Hatteras National Seashore boasts 70 miles of gorgeous shoreline. This national park is actually part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks area (yes, like the Netflix show, Outer Banks).

And while you likely won’t experience the sensationalized version of Outer Banks life that’s depicted in the Netflix show, there are still tons of things for you to do at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You can trek to the top of sand dunes, check out the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, surf a few waves, scour the sand for shells, and even keep an eye out for the wild ponies that like to stop by. 

9. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

  • Location: Hopkins, South Carolina (~2-hour drive from Charleston and ~30-minute drive from Columbia) 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day
  • Where to Stay: Columbia
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Poinsett State Park, Boardwalk Loop Trail, canoeing/kayaking on the Congaree River, fishing, and camping
  • Official Website

Congaree National Park is one of many beautiful national parks on the East Coast.

One of the biggest perks of Congaree National Park in South Carolina is its location. Situated just 30 minutes outside of the capital city of Columbia, South Carolina, and just two hours away from Charleston, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, Congaree National Park is a perfect nature-filled day trip.

Most of the best national parks on the East Coast hold some sort of interesting, yet unique title. Congaree National Park can boast that it’s the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the U.S. South. And while that might not seem very exciting at first, this lengthy superlative means that Congaree National Park is home to some lovely plants and animals.

While at this national park, you can admire the synchronous fireflies, fish in Weston Lake, and keep an eye out for wild deer and turkey while hiking Oakridge Trail. If you’re looking for less animal-focused activities, you can kayak on the Congaree River, go on a guided walk and talk, or spend a few nights at one of the campsites. 

As an added bonus, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can kayak the whopping 50 miles of the Congaree River Blue Trail.

RELATED: 20 Bucket List Places to Visit in the US

10. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

  • Location: Southern Florida (~70 miles from Key West) 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day (2 days if you want to camp overnight)
  • Where to Stay: Key West
  • Park Entrance Fees: $15 per person (valid for 7 consecutive days) 
  • Highlights: Fort Jefferson, Loggerhead Key, snorkeling, diving, and relax on the beach
  • Official Website

If you're looking for gorgeous national parks to visit on the East Coast, check out Dry Tortugas National Park.

While you can simply drive to most of the national parks on the East Coast, you’ll need to hop on a boat or a seaplane to get to Dry Tortugas National Park. And while that might seem like too much effort, this natural gem is certainly worth it.

Once you arrive at Dry Tortugas National Park, you can visit the historic Fort Jefferson, snorkel and swim among colorful schools of fish, and even camp for a night or two on the island.

And, as the name of the national park implies (“tortugas” is the Spanish word for “turtle”), there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to see many turtles while at the awesome Dry Tortugas National Park.

11. Biscayne National Park, Florida

  • Location: Southern Florida (between Miami and the Florida Keys
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day (day trip from Miami)
  • Where to Stay: Miami
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding, camping, and Dante Fascall Visitor Center
  • Official Website

Located in Florida, Biscayne National Park is one of many stunning national parks on the East Coast.

Florida has so many wonderful national parks – there are quite a few on this list already – that it’s inevitable that some end up flying under-the-radar. But when you discover one of these national parks for the first time, you’ll feel like you’ve found a hidden gem. One example of this is Biscayne National Park.

Situated just 45 minutes outside of Miami, it’s actually quite shocking that Biscayne National Park isn’t more popular than it is, especially considering its beautiful blue waters and swaying palm trees.

A large chunk of the beauty of this park is actually found underwater. You can dive for shipwrecks, fish for lobsters, and say hello to the many marine animals. You can see everything from manatees to stingrays to bottlenose dolphins to hawksbills sea turtles.

If you’d prefer to stay dry, there are still a few things for you to do. You can stay on the surface of the water while kayaking, visit the Boca Chita Lighthouse, and have a lovely little picnic while admiring the stunning views.

RELATED: Miami to Key West Drive: 17 Amazing Stops

12. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

  • Location: Garland County, Arkansas (Hot Springs) 
  • How Long to Stay: 1-2 days
  • Where to Stay: Hot Springs
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, and Buckstaff Bath House
  • Official Website

Add Hot Springs National Park to your list of national parks on the east coast.

Since Hot Springs National Park is located in Arkansas, I might be stretching the definition of “the East Coast” just a little bit. But Hot Springs National Park deserves to be on this list, thanks to its significant history.

In 1832, Hot Springs National Park became the first piece of land that the U.S. government decided to preserve for recreational purposes. Since this happened before U.S. national parks existed (that was in 1872, when Yellowstone National Park gained the title), it could not be designated one. Nevertheless, this action paved the way for U.S. National Parks to come into existence.

While at Hot Springs National Park, you can hike, camp, and, of course, experience the famous hot springs. There are two bathhouses on the premises, the Buckstaff Bathhouse and the Quapaw Bathhouse, that are filled with natural thermal water. In addition, there is the Display Spring and the Hot Water Cascade, where you can feel the naturally warm water (but not soak in it).

13. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

  • Location: ~1.5-hour drive from Louisville, Kentucky and ~1.5-hour drive from Nashville, Tennesee 
  • How Long to Stay: 1 day (day trip from Louisville or Nashville)
  • Where to Stay: Louisville or Nashville
  • Park Entrance Fees: Free 
  • Highlights: Diamond Caverns, bicycling, Frozen Niagara Tour, Historic Tour, Sloan’s Crossing Pond, and Green River Ferry
  • Official Website

One of the best national parks on the East Coast is Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky.

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is another national park that stretches the definition of East Coast, but for good reason!

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the longest-known cave system in the entire world! For this reason alone, it has claimed a slew of titles, including UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

The best thing to do at Mammoth Cave National Park is to take a guided tour of the cave system. While on this tour, you can learn everything you’d like to know about the science and history of the caves. For the most in-depth experience, you’ll want to book the Wild Cave Tour.

If you’d like to extend your time at Mammoth Cave National Park, there are loads of other activities for you to enjoy. You can kayak on the Green River and Nolin River, tackle one of the many bike paths, enjoy one of the many hiking paths, and maybe even camp overnight!

RELATED: Weekend Trip to Nashville: 16 Fun Things to Do in Music City

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of the best national parks on the East Coast? Let me know in the comments below!


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